Megan Thee Stallion
Photo: Courtesy of Megan Thee Stallion
The Rise And Rise Of Megan Thee Stallion: Juicy J, Scott Storch, LilJuMadeDaBeat & More On The Houston Rapper's Emergence
For Women's History Month 2021, GRAMMY.com is celebrating some of the women artists nominated at the 2021 GRAMMY Awards show. Today, we honor Megan Thee Stallion, who's currently nominated for four GRAMMY Awards.
From her no-holds-barred mixtapes to making inescapable chart-topping hits, few artists in recent history have had a more stratospheric rise than Megan Thee Stallion. The Houston rapper, born Megan Jovon Ruth Pete, began writing raps as a teenager but started getting attention when she posted videos of herself freestyling on Instagram while a student at Prairie View A&M University. Even in those early clips, one of which saw her battling male opponents in a cipher, Thee Stallion (a nickname given to her because of her towering height) displayed the poise and fiercely unapologetic raps that would soon make her a star.
A handful of critically-acclaimed projects, including 2018's Tina Snow EP and 2019's Fever mixtape, showcased the rapper's ability to create different personas and challenge gender stereotypes in the genre and society. In August 2019, she released the single "Hot Girl Summer" featuring Nicki Minaj and Ty Dolla $ign (inspired by the body-positive catchphrase popularized on social media by her and her fans known as "Hotties"), scoring her first No. 1 on Billboard's Rhythmic AirPlay Chart. Despite personal tragedy—both her mom (a former rapper and her first manager) and grandmother passed away in 2019—the 24-year-old was well on her way to being a household name. She guested on songs by artists including Chance the Rapper, Gucci Mane, and Khalid, and signed a management deal with Jay-Z's Roc Nation.
Last year was a major one for Pete. The rapper kicked off 2020 with her collaboration alongside singer Normani, "Diamonds," which appeared on the superhero blockbuster Birds of Prey soundtrack. She earned her first No. 1 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 chart for the surprise Beyoncé-assisted "Savage" remix (proceeds from the song went to COVID-19 relief efforts in Houston), a full-circle moment for Pete, who has named the Houston singer as one of her biggest inspirations. A few months later she collaborated with another powerhouse artist, Cardi B, on her sex-positive, record-breaking anthem "WAP." If all that wasn't enough, she was also named one of TIME Magazine's 100 most influential people. Pete ended the year by releasing her highly-anticipated debut album, Good News, which featured City Girls, SZA, Big Sean, 2 Chainz, and more.
With four nominations at the 2021 GRAMMY Awards show, including Best New Artist, GRAMMY.com spoke to Scott Storch, LilJuMadeDaBeat, Helluva, Juicy J, and OG Ron C about working with the rapper, what diehard Hotties would be surprised to learn about her, and why her influence goes beyond music.
LilJuMadeDaBeat: "Megan is literally one of the most genuine people I've ever met in my life."
LilJuMadeDaBeat, born Julian Mason, has had a front-row seat to Megan Thee Stallion's ascent. In 2018, when the rapper signed to Houston independent label 1501 Entertainment (started by former baseball player Carl Crawford), the Dallas-born producer got the call to start working with her. His productions can be heard on Tina Snow and Fever. "We just locked in and started going crazy," he explains to GRAMMY.com. "Some of those early beats we made literally sitting at my kitchen table in Houston."
One of those beats became "Big Ole Freak," a Tina Snow highlight which sees Pete boasting about her sexual prowess over a bass-heavy beat, and her first song to chart on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. The pair bonded instantly over their love of '90s/'00s Texas rap groups like UGK (Bun B and UGK) and Three 6 Mafia, whose music was a major influence on their work together.
"Anybody that knows me could tell you Pimp C is my favorite rapper. When I met Megan, he just so happened to be her favorite rapper too," says Mason. He even ended up sampling "Sippin On Some Syrup," Three 6 Mafia's 2000 collaboration with UGK and Project Pat, on "Big Drank," which appeared on Pete's 2019 Fever (the cover depicting the rapper as a 70s Blaxploitation heroine). Fittingly, Three 6 Mafia co-founder Juicy J executive produced the project and appears on the track "Simon Says."
Mason also produced "Cash Shit," a Fever standout featuring DaBaby. "She called me and was like 'I want a beat with no melody' and I was like 'Okay cool,'" he says. It would be the first of many Megan Thee Stallion songs to achieve success on TikTok, with users choreographing elaborate dance routines. (When Ohio teenager Keara Wilson posted a video of her dancing to "Savage" on March 10, 2020, it quickly went viral, with celebrities including Hailey Bieber, Jessica Alba, and Pete herself doing the challenge on their accounts.) The rapper ended 2020 as TikTok's most listened-to artist.
From the beginning, the rapper harnessed social media to both build her fanbase and control her own narrative, despite the detractors that come with the territory. "I hate that a lot of people try to paint her as a bad guy on social media," says Mason. "Megan is literally one of the most genuine people I've ever met in my life, she'll do anything for me, and I'll do anything for her."
Helluva: "[Working with her] just gave me confidence to know an artist of that status could use my beats."
Detroit producer Helluva was surprised Pete was a fan of his beats before they started working together. "I didn't even know people outside of Detroit even heard my beats like that," he tells GRAMMY.com.
Previously known for his work with Detroit rapper Tee Grizzly, whose song "No Effort" directly inspired Pete's 2018 track "Freak Nasty," Helluva ended up working on her 2020 Suga EP and Good News. Originally intended to be released as her debut album on May 2—her late mother's birthday—she ended up dropping Suga at the beginning of March 2020 amidst label contract disputes (A judge ended up granting her permission to put out the project).
Besides collaborations with Oakland R&B singer Kehlani and Atlanta rapper Gunna, the EP also featured production from coast-to-coast GRAMMY-winning hitmakers including The Neptunes, Timbaland, and J. White Did It. Helluva contributed two songs, "Ain't Equal" and the Tupac Shakur-sampling "B.I.T.C.H.," the latter of which Pete performed on "The Tonight Show." "Once she was giving me a shot at it, I wasn't going to miss my shot," he says. "[Working with her] just gave me confidence to know an artist of that status could use my beats."
Suga spawned the rapper's biggest hit to date, the infectious, J. White-produced "classy, bougie, ratchet" anthem "Savage," and its accompanying internet-breaking remix with Beyoncé, who she met at a New Year's Eve party. The remix featuring co-writing from The-Dream and Starrah quickly reached number one.
Juicy J: "She's showing women empowerment. We make music every day that's good, but when you can actually give a message too? That's dope."
When producer and rapper Juicy J first heard Pete rap he knew she was going to be huge. "I was like 'Man I ain't never heard no female rap like this,'" he tells GRAMMY.com. "She writes her own stuff, she's in the studio telling the engineer how she wants her voice to sound, she's hands-on with everything." He'd later co-produce "Hot Girl Summer" and multiple songs off Good News, and Pete would guest on his 2020 album, The Hustle Continues.
Juicy J was also impressed with the rapper's "Saturday Night Live" debut. On Oct. 3, 2020, she took the opportunity to make a statement after months of protests and racial reckoning. She performed in front of a screen displaying the words "Protect Black Women," along with quotes from Malcolm X and activist Tamika Mallory calling out Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron over his handling of Breonna Taylor's death at the hands of three Louisville police officers.
"We need to protect our Black women and love our Black women, 'cause at the end of the day, we need our Black women," she said during the performance. "We need to protect our Black men and stand up for our Black men, 'cause at the end of the day, we're tired of seeing hashtags about Black men." A few days later, she wrote an op-ed for the New York Times titled "Why I Speak Up For Black Women" about her experiences as a Black woman in hip-hop. The piece also touched on her political activism.
"She's showing women empowerment," says Juicy J. "We make music every day that's good, but when you can actually give a message too? That's dope."
Scott Storch: "She is very down to earth and that's what gives you longevity in the game."
After all her success, expectations were sky-high for Good News, but neither Pete nor her collaborators were fazed by the pressure. Besides long-time producers LilJuMadeDaBeat, Juicy J, and Helluva, she also recruited veteran beatmakers including Cool & Dre, Mustard, and eight-time GRAMMY winner Scott Storch, who helped her pay homage to the music that she grew up listening to on the album.
Opener "Shots Fired," in which the rapper scathingly addresses the July 2020 incident where she was shot in the foot twice, samples Notorious B.I.G.'s Tupac-dissing "Who Shot Ya?" and "Girls in the Hood" flips Eazy-E's 1987 classic "Boyz-in-the-Hood."
"I was playing with some ideas and melodies and always loved that classic sound of Eazy-E," Storch shares with GRAMMY.com. "I reworked the original sample, replayed all the instruments, and had [co-producer] Illa put some drums behind it. As soon as it was done we thought this could be something special."
Unsurprisingly, Good News topped the U.S. and international charts and made year-end lists including Rolling Stone, Pitchfork, and the Los Angeles Times. The "Savage" remix picked up three GRAMMY nominations (Record of the Year, Best Rap Performance, Best Rap Song), and Pete was nominated for Best New Artist.
Of the rapper's potential, Storch adds, "She is very down to earth and that's what gives you longevity in the game. She isn't impressed by all the Hollywood smoke and mirrors and cares so much for her fans."
OG Ron C: "Now the labels are calling asking 'Who's the next hot artist in Texas?'"
Pete's achievements have paved the way for the next generation of Lone Star State artists. Houston DJ and Chopstars collective founder OG Ron C, who has remixed several of her projects including Suga, has seen firsthand the new attention she's brought to the city.
"The fans love her. I've been breaking artists around my city for a long time from Slim Thug to Mike Jones, Paul Wall, Lil Flip, the list goes on," he tells GRAMMY.com. "It's always amazing for me to see because I know what Texas artists fight through just to get a point where other people say 'Oh yeah man, we like you and we jamming you.'"
Ron C is now a general manager at 1501, and points out there's infrastructure and opportunities for Texas rappers and producers today to reach a national platform that didn't exist in the '80s and '90s. "We never had the luxury of being an entertainment hub, we didn't have the luxury of Lyor [Cohen] or Clive [Davis] or LA [Reid] walking around the city and just so happened to see somebody on their grind, or happen to hear somebody's music," he says. "Now the labels are calling asking 'Who's the next hot artist in Texas?'"